The politics of movie reviews

I’ve been reading the New York Times’ movie reviews for decades now. I don’t know if they were always so politicized and laden with PC instruction, and I just didn’t notice, or if they’ve gotten more and more liberally pedantic with the passage of time. I do know, though, that today’s set of reviews was as much about the reviewers’ political beliefs as it was about the movies themselves.

Take the review for I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, a silly sounding Adam Sandler movie that has as its premise the fact that two heterosexual fire fighters marry to ensure a stable home for one man’s children. The review, rather than really being about the movie, is about how the movie is wrong about PC issues, despite the GLAAD seal of approval (and I did you not about the latter):

Fear of a gay planet fuels plenty of American movies; it’s as de rigueur in comedy as in macho action. But what’s mildly different about “Chuck & Larry” is how sincerely it tries to have its rainbow cake and eat it too. In structural terms, the movie resembles a game of Mother May I, in that for every tiny step it takes forward in the name of enlightenment (gay people can be as boring as heterosexuals), it takes three giant steps back, often by piling on more jokes about gay sex (some involving a priceless Ving Rhames). Into this mix add the stunningly unfunny Rob Schneider, who pops up brandishing buckteeth, glasses and an odious accent in apparent homage to Mickey Rooney’s painful, misguided turn as the Japanese neighbor in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” has been deemed safe for conscientious viewing by a representative of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a media watchdog group. Given the movie’s contempt for women, who mainly just smile, sigh and wiggle their backdoors at the camera, it’s too bad that some lesbian (and Asian) Glaad members didn’t toss in their two cents about the movie. If Mr. Sandler dares speak in favor of gay love in “Chuck & Larry” — at least when it’s legally sanctioned, tucked behind closed doors and not remotely feminine — it’s only because homosexuality represents one type of love among men. Here, boys can be boys, together in bed and not, but heaven forbid that any of them look or behave like women.

Frankly, I think the movie seems dreadful, but I’m not a teenager. My sense, though, is that the reviewer is offended, not by the movie itself, but by the movie might actually not be as fond of gays as its premise implies. That’s a valid position, but it’s not the stuff of movie reviews.

But that’s just an “N” of one. How about the review for No Reservations, which is praised, not for its qualities as a movie or the virtues of its acting, but for striking the politically correct tone about working mothers:

What’s unexpected and gratifying, though, is the film’s enlightened attitude toward parenthood and work, which the movie’s publicity campaign conspicuously glosses over, even though it’s the story’s driving force.

***

Modern Hollywood movies often genuflect toward feminism while implying that a woman isn’t truly a woman until she has gratefully surrendered to motherhood. While watching “No Reservations” you keep waiting for the other high-heeled shoe to drop, but it never really does. The director, Scott Hicks (“Shine”), and the screenwriter, Carol Fuchs, respect Kate’s ambition, skill and drive. Throughout, they imply that Kate’s biggest hurdle isn’t a lack of aptitude for motherhood but her credulous acceptance of society’s one-size-fits-all definition of good parents.

***

It isn’t easy for Kate to process her sister’s death — she returns to work too quickly, and won’t take time off until her boss (Patricia Clarkson) orders it — and the challenge of mothering Zoe is even more daunting. Yet the film dares to present Kate’s stumblebum early efforts — subcontracting child care to a chain-smoking goth babysitter, then to a flirty single-dad neighbor (a charming and woefully underused Brian F. O’Byrne) — as proof not that she needs to quit her job, but that she’s fallen for the false dichotomy of work versus parenting.

I haven’t seen this movie, but I have seen Mostly Martha, the German movie that it copies. Maybe I read it wrong, but the German movie was about a horribly uptight woman who was humanized by having a child — which is quite a traditional message. I wonder if No Reservations has actually changed that message, or if this reviewer is just seeing things through the PC lens.

By the way, I don’t recall any movie advocating that a single Mom should just quit her job. However, anything with even a tidge of reality says that a woman (or man) suddenly responsible for a child must make changes and, possibly, sacrifices, for that child’s well-being. Only people in thrall to the ugliest feminism would say a helpless child has to be completely subordinate to a single woman’s desires.

There would be more, but I’ve gotta run….

UPDATE: I know that, sooner or later, someone is going to point out the obvious, which is that such sites as National Review Online or American Spectator also make political points in their reviews. That’s true. But the overt purpose of those reviews is to tell how they fit into the conservative world view. “If you are offended by movies encouraging out-of-wedlock babies, you won’t like this one” kind of stuff. Just as movie sites warn parents off of movies inappropriate for kids, these sites serve the function of warning conservatives off of movies that will make them heave.

The Times, however, holds itself out as an objective reviewer of movie quality, into which it then sneaks lectures telling its readers “If you are an evil person (i.e., not liberal), you’ll think these jokes are funny” or “all decent movie goers will recognize the political wisdom of this movie.” As always, for me, it’s not the agenda, it’s the hidden agenda.

UPDATE II: Just today, Jonah Goldberg, writing about the Simpsons, has something to say about politicizing reviews:

But, as I’ve often tried to point out, scrutinizing everything on a political calculus is often pointless and, worse, it sucks the marrow of joy out of the bone of life (Hmmmm bone-sucked joy-marrow). The Simpsons is funny because it’s funny. The politics of the show are a very small part of the equation, because politics are — and should be — a very small part of life, in Springfield and everywhere else.

UPDATE III:  I read movie reviews, but seldom go to movies.  I don’t read book reviews; I just read lots of books.  It turns out that, if I’d been reading the latter reviews and not just the former, I would have discovered that this same bias may well permeate the book review industry too.  Why am I not surprised?  I recall a year or so ago someone leaving a comment here saying that all books published by Regnery were bad, across the board.  There’s an  open mind.

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Comments

  1. zhombre says

    Bernie Goldberg remarked the NYT even snuck political barbs into their restaurant reviews, so I can’t be surprised. It’s not really a movie review anyway. It’s political parsing by a cultural commissar. Of course, if GLAAD likes the Sandler movie, that’s the current equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, or a pass from the Hays Office.

  2. D. Reid says

    A close friend of mine was cast in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry as one of the “Chinatown Hooters” waitresses “who mainly just smile, sigh and wiggle their backdoors at the camera”. She said that overt (and juvenile) female sexuality was specifically included in this movie to overcome the homosexual theme and draw in young males viewers who might otherwise by scared away from purchasing a ticket.

  3. pacificus says

    I think we can expect ever more heavy-handedness from our cultural betters–the “comissars” in the nicely pointed phrase of zhombre, as we are dragged down the road to ever more enlightened views of sexuality. One wonders where the larger public will draw the line on this; gays, lesbians, the transgendered (god help us) are already de rigour; following in the not too distant future is pedophilia and bestiality as desires/genetic proclivities to be investigated, admired, and protected. I once read somewhere that the entire project of modernity was essentially about sexual liberation for the elite. The concept of “perversion” seems headed for the dustbin of history.

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